“Listen, man. You can be sad all you want, but you can’t fix the past. You can’t go back to a week ago and do it again. The only thing you can do is make it worse or you can make it better.”
That was the advice that Justin Allgaier offered his JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer earlier this season when Mayer noticeably spiraled into sadness during a go-karting session in the days after a crash in the Xfinity Series at Texas Motor Speedway.
Mayer, 20, took Allgaier’s advice to heart and has improved to be a much more focused racer in the weeks since the chat. In fact, Mayer stepped up a few weeks ago to score the first oval track win of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career a few weeks ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure his spot in the Championship 4 field.
Mayer says having a bank of knowledge like Allgaier’s to pull from has really helped him throughout his young career.
“He’s been driving pretty much as long as I’ve been alive,” Mayer laughed. “He has a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, especially in the Xfinity car. He’s been in this spot three, four, five times. He knows the game. I lean on him as much as he allows me to, because he doesn’t want to give out all of his secrets because we’re racing for a championship.”
While it was Allgaier’s advice that helped push Mayer into the Championship 4, Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave Mayer advice earlier in the season, which was the key that potentially unlocked the door to victory lane. Earnhardt mentioned on Thursday that he too had to sit Mayer down to help him understand that simple mistakes were costing the driver race wins.
“I knew he was fast, but he’s young and mistake-prone,” Earnhardt said of Mayer. “And so this year, I would pick with him a lot about hitting the wall on Lap 1. He did that quite a bit the first probably 60 percent of the year. There were a couple of races where right at the very start he’s hitting the wall. He would hit the wall, get himself behind, and he’d end up coming back finishing fifth. He’d get out of the car, and be like, ‘I ran fifth, pretty good, huh?’ He was proud of his ability to come back from his mistake, but it was happening every other week.
“To get him to understand how that mistake was not — the comeback is admirable, but the mistake was keeping him from winning races. I would tell him, ‘If you don’t hit that wall, you win the race instead of running fifth.'”
Mayer stopped hitting walls on Lap 1, and a strange thing began to happen; he began to win races. Now, he’s running for a championship.
It’s been quite the journey to this moment for the young racer.
Mayer, a native of Wisconsin, took two consecutive ARCA Menards Series East championships in 2019 and 2020, and scored a victory in just his seventh career start in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Bristol Motor Speedway in the fall of 2020.
The stage was set, Mayer was on his way to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and we was immediately expected to win races. It didn’t happen that way.
Mayer struggled through a part-time campaign in 2021, which saw him make 18 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In that campaign, Mayer only recorded one top-five finish and six top-10s, and he had an average finish of 20.2.
The following season, Mayer was elevated to full-time status, and while his overall performance was much improved as he made the Playoffs on the strength of an 11 top-five, 19 top-10 season, he never found victory lane.
Mayer, a once hot commodity had started to cool just a couple of years into his NASCAR National Series career.
The 2023 season, again, started off hot and cold for Mayer, but then, it all changed in the 20th race of the season, which took place at Road America. Mayer finally broke through for career win No. 1.
Since then, Mayer has gone on a tear and has racked up four victories total, and he is now battling for a championship in Phoenix.
So, what changed?
“Getting a win. That’s the biggest thing,” Mayer explained. “Once you can get the floodgates to open with that win, it’s going to be hard to stop. I always said that throughout this entire year before we won. I was like, ‘We’re going to be hard to stop once we get that win,’ I was more just saying that to make myself feel better. But actually seeing it happen, and being in the Champ 4, it’s surreal. I’m taken aback by it sometimes. Every now and then, I’m like, ‘Holy crap, I’m doing it, we’re doing the job.'”
He’s getting it done on the track, and with Allgaier and team owner Earnhardt serving as the voices of reason in his ear, Mayer has gained maturity throughout the season, and now he’s ready to do something that Mayer admits he wasn’t ready to do six months ago — win a championship.